ASK THE DOCTOR – What Do You Mean By Unction in Preaching?

ASK THE DOCTOR – What Do You Mean By Unction in Preaching? March 24, 2008

In a variation on the “Ask a Blogger” theme, I received this e-mail, which was effectively asking Doctor Martyn Lloyd-Jones a question.

“I have been doing some research lately on the revivals in Wales and the ministry of Christmas Evans and have come across an emphasis in the Welsh Revivals and in Lloyd-Jones on unction in preaching. Even C. J. Mahaney referenced this in a recent post on his blog: Recommended Chapters on Preaching. Long question, short: Is there anything that you’ve posted on unction in Lloyd-Jones or could you do that on an upcoming Lloyd-Jones day? I would be greatly served by it.”

You ask a great question. I don’t think I have posted on the doctor’s view of unction in preaching. I would commend his book, Preaching and Preachers, and a book about his preaching called The Sacred Anointing for more on this subject. Thanks to the wonders of my Logos Bible Software, I was able to quickly find a couple of great examples of the Doctor’s teaching on unction which I will share shortly. In essence, for Lloyd-Jones, true preaching was much more than a mere intellectual explanation of words in the Bible. His views on this matter were closely related to his views on the baptism with the Spirit, which I have blogged about previously here.

I love these two quotes from E. M. Bounds which I have also shared once before, and which help to explain what lies at the heart of the Doctor’s view of unction in preaching:

E. M. Bounds“This divine unction is the one distinguishing feature that separates true gospel preaching from all other methods of presenting truth. It backs and interpenetrates the revealed truth with all the force of God. It illumines the Word and broadens and enrichens [sic] the intellect and empowers it to grasp and apprehend the Word. It qualifies the preacher’s heart, and brings it to that condition of tenderness, of purity, of force and light that are necessary to secure the highest results. This unction gives to the preacher liberty and enlargement of thought and soul—a freedom, fullness, and directness of utterance that can be secured by no other process.”

— E. M. Bounds, Power Through Prayer
“Preaching is not the performance of an hour. It is the outflow of a life. It takes twenty years to make a sermon, because it takes twenty years to make the man. The true sermon is a thing of life. The sermon grows because the man grows. The sermon is forceful because the man is forceful. The sermon is holy because the man is holy. The sermon is full of the divine unction because the man is full of the divine unction.”

— E. M. Bounds, Preaching and Prayer

Here’s how the Doctor explains it:

“When the Holy Spirit comes in revival there is a great anointing, and it shows itself in many ways. You read of men who had believed the truth, and who were preaching faithfully and regularly, but who were ineffective and lacking in power. Suddenly they are filled with power. They speak with boldness and with power and with great authority. That is the anointing of the Spirit . . .

Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-JonesBut this anointing is not confined to revival. I use that simply as an illustration. Thank God it is given at other times. Any man who has ever preached should be able to testify to this. There are times when, entirely outside his own control, he is given a special authority, special power, an unction which is unusual. And there are good reasons for its bestowal. There are circumstances which he himself is not always aware of, which he only discovers afterwards. Somebody may have come to the congregation who needed a particular message or word, and the preacher, without knowledge on his part, is guided to say something which is just appropriate to that particular state and condition. There is, therefore, this special enduement of power which is called ‘the anointing’. It is something that one should seek and covet, it is something for which one should be constantly praying . . .

Our Lord was setting out on His public ministry. As the Son of God, He was always full of the Spirit. But in order to do His work He needed a special anointing and He received it at His baptism in the river Jordan by John the Baptist. The Holy Spirit then descended upon Him, He was given this special power. He was God; but as man He needed this ‘baptism’, this ‘anointing’ with the Holy Spirit.”

— David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, The Christian Soldier: An Exposition of Ephesians 6:10 to 20, Banner of Truth Trust, Edinburgh; Carlisle, PA, 1977, p.115.

“The Holy Spirit enables Christians by giving them what is called in the New Testament “unction”; He gives “anointing,” understanding, freedom, and clarity of speech, an authority. Many terms can be used with respect to this God-given ability to preach. One quotation seems to me to sum it all up very well. Probably the first letter that Paul ever wrote was to the church at Thessalonica, and in the first chapter of the first epistle, he reminds the believers of how the Gospel had come to them: “Our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance” (1 Thessalonians 1:5). Paul was saying: “I did the speaking, but it was not I. I was used.” As he was speaking, he knew that he was merely the vehicle, the channel, the instrument that the Holy Spirit was using. He was taken up; he was out of himself; he was, as it were, possessed by the Spirit, and he knew that he was preaching with “much assurance.” Everything was against him. Thessalonica was a pagan city, part of Macedonia. The people did not have a Jewish background or the Old Testament Scriptures; they did not know the prophets; they knew nothing. They were living a life of sin and degradation in utter ignorance, and yet when the apostle appeared among them, he was able to speak with assurance. Why? Because it was not his word only, but he spoke “in power, and in the Holy Ghost.” . . .

The Holy Spirit takes people and helps them to speak in a clear manner . . . That is the way the Holy Spirit works, but there is another—His action upon the listeners. If the Holy Spirit only acted on the preacher, there would be no conversions. The supreme example of the Spirit’s action on the hearers is what happened when Peter was preaching in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost. In Acts 2 we read that halfway through his sermon, as he was expounding the Scriptures, the people “were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” (v. 37). The Holy Spirit did the pricking. It was not Peter’s sermon, which was a straightforward exposition of Scripture. The power, the convicting power of the Holy Spirit, was there working in the listeners. On that day three thousand were added to the church. The beginning of chapter 4 tells us that in the next day or so another two thousand were a

This, then, is the dual action of the Spirit. He takes the preacher, the speaker, whether in a pulpit or in private, and gives this enabling. Then the Holy Spirit acts upon the ones who are listening and deals with their minds and hearts and wills. Both things happen at the same time.”

— David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Courageous Christianity, 1st U. S. edition, Crossway Books, Wheaton, IL, 2001, p. 190.

For more information on Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones see this summary post or the MLJ Recording Trust.

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